KITTEN OVERPOPULATION: IT’S EVERYONES PROBLEM
By Sharyn White
Kittens: their adorable faces are hard to resist. Their plaintive mews tug at your
heartstrings and their furry little bodies somersaulting and pouncing are always fun to watch.
Sadly, millions end up being euthanized each year in the most preventable of all circumstances. There simply are not enough homes for all the kittens born in this country every year. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, approximately 10 million kittens and puppies are put to death each year in the United States because there are not enough people adopting them. This huge overpopulation problem continues to grow, despite efforts by the ASPCA and the American Humane Society (and Bob Barker!) to educate the public about spaying and neutering their animals. Bretta Nelson, public relations manager for the Arizona Humane Society (AHS)
says that there needs to be more public awareness of all the various programs out there to assist pet owners in curtailing overpopulation.
“We offer spay and neuter clinics on a regular basis, funded by donations and contributions from Petsmart charities. Last year the AHS spayed and neutered almost
21,000 cats and dogs. We find that affordability and accessibility are the two most important factors for people. We have two public clinics and a mobile clinic that travels to outer areas of town.”
Besides the Humane Society, what are some of the other resources?
“People need to know there are services are available to help them. There’s
the Arizona Spay and Neuter Hotline and the Trap, Neuter and Return program for feral cats funded by the Animal Defense League. There are a lot of sources, if people were more aware of how serious this situation is.”
What if cost is a factor in making the decision?
“We are non-profit, but we get grants including the ones from Petsmart charities, to offset the costs for those who cannot afford it. Our prices are very reasonable.”
Nelson said more people might spay and neuter their animals if they understood the benefits.
“We always try to inform owners as to the health benefits for their pets of living longer, less chance of cancer and better health overall,” she said “I don’t know if that resonates as much with all people. I think it all comes down to affordability and accessibility.”
What about the feral cat population; how does that factor into overpopulation?
“Our kitten season is different here: unlike other parts of the country where they have a cold winter, cats here will mate year-round, although we see a spike in the spring. People don’t realize that one unspayed female and one unaltered male can produce up to 460 thousand offspring, by their kittens having kittens, etc. And it’s not just the over-population: our hospital is full of dogs and cats with broken limbs, missing eyes, etc. all a result of too many animals trying to live on the city streets.”
How can people help to prevent this from happening? .
“Well, not just the spaying and neutering, but by bringing unwanted animals to the shelter instead of dumping them on the streets or leaving them to fend for themselves,” said Nelson. “We take in animals strictly by donation. And we don’t turn anyone away because they can’t donate, even if it’s just $5 dollars. We are a shelter, a place they can bring an animal they can no longer care for. They have to realize that puppy in the box marked “Free Puppies” is not free. That puppy will require lifelong care, feeding, spaying or neutering, sometimes medication. It’s not free.
What happens to those kittens born on the street? The lucky ones do not become feral and get picked up by someone from The Litter League. An all-volunteer local group, The Litter League only takes in newborns up to age 4 months. If they need to be bottle-fed ,they have volunteers for that. If they just need to be socialized, they have that covered as well. When they are big enough (at least three pounds), they are neutered or spayed and placed at adoption centers in Petco to find homes.
Carrie Cunningham is a volunteer for The Litter League. Over the years, she has taken in dozens of young, feral kittens. She has cared for them, socialized them and made the weekend treks to Petco to drop them off and to pick up the unlucky ones that did not get adopted that day. She has first-hand experience in the care of unwanted litters.
“Our group is small, about 8 foster families in all, but we take in as many cats as we can. This gets them off the streets and unable to reproduce more feral kittens. By getting them spayed and neutered, The Litter League does what it can to help with the problem.”
Over the last three years, Cunningham has taken in 38 homeless kittens and has had as many as 16 living in her home at one time. With the help of her two teenage sons, manages the feeding, socializing and other chores associated with such an undertaking. She wishes more people would understand the urgency in controlling the pet population.
“There are no firm numbers available on exactly how many feral/homeless cats are in Arizona,” she says. “Just guesstimates based on how many each rescue group takes in and figures from groups like the Arizona Animal Welfare League and the Arizona Humane Society. There are more than likely many hundreds out there not being counted, living in feral colonies and dying in horrible ways.”
The Litter League also takes in a limited number of puppies and tries to find homes for them in local Petco and Petsmart stores. Every cat or dog is fixed, micro-chipped, brought current on shots and socialized before being offered for adoption. The only funding to support Litter League are donations and adoption fees.
Another better-known rescue group is Helping Animals Live On, or HALO as it’s usually called. This group, started in 1994, consists of an all-volunteer circle of foster families, volunteer veterinarians, and caregivers. HALO exists primarily on donations, adoption fees and micro-chipping fees, plus a small amount of revenue from their thrift shop located in northeast Phoenix.
HALO visits local pounds rescuing animals scheduled to be euthanized for various reasons. They put them into foster care; get the pet whatever medical attention is needed, spay or neuter and when ready, offer them for adoption. Their adoption centers are located in various Petco and Petsmart stores throughout the Valley.
One of the fastest growing rescue groups in the Phoenix area, HALO has its own web site, Facebook page and fund-raisers throughout the years. They feature stories and advice on their web site for pet owners, along with upcoming events and success stories on some of their rescues. More info can be found at www.halorescue.org .
Shelly Torkelson, public relations coordinator for HALO, says that it is hard to estimate how many cats and dogs are euthanized each year in Maricopa County, because it is not well tracked. However, she had the staggering figures for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control and The Arizona Humane Society: over 46,000 cats and dogs last year alone. She pointed out that this also includes owner-surrenders and animals brought in that were too sick or too injured to be helped.
The common thread amongst these three organizations is clear: spay or neuter your pet as soon as it is old enough. Lack of funds or awareness is not an excuse. Make that lifetime commitment to your pet. Do your part in the community to help eliminate this growing problem. Be part of the solution, not the problem.